Interoperability is the ability of computer systems and/or software to share and use information. In the field of health care, for example, it means that your health information and records will be available to you at any time and any place so that you and your provider can make informed decisions to help you stay healthy and receive the most appropriate care. To make interoperability successful, health care providers and their support staff must not only know and understand health care, but they must also understand and use relevant technology accurately and appropriately.

Add to these training needs the great diversity of most organizations’ learners. A global mindset is key in today’s workplace, and cultural sensitivity is a good start. “Culture” here includes education, vocabulary, background, experiences, expectations, abilities, personalities, mental health concerns, disabilities, age, and on and on.

Enter the instructional designer, who sees the changes in today’s workplace as exciting and full of opportunity. There are a lot of moving parts to developing training content, such as the expected end result, available tools and resources, and, perhaps most importantly, your learners. You must understand who are they, where they come from, what they know and what their goals are. Today’s instructional designers and trainers must do more than just bridge the gaps: The must use diversity to benefit the individuals and the group as a whole. Here are some tips for breaking down difficult materials to meet the needs of all learners.

Storytelling and True-to-Life Scenarios

Tell a story. Training that is relatable, is problem-centered and ties into past experience helps place skills into the brain’s framework to learn, store and recall information. Telling a story and providing a true-to-life scenario helps learners relate to and remember details and processes. Make up characters and stories that are relatable to your audience, and use names and characters from popular movies or books to bring life to the information.

Starting at the Beginning

It may be tempting to chunk information into neat chapters – to train on Medicaid policy and practices in one session, Medicare policy and practices in another, and how to enter information into the electronic health records technology in yet another session. Instead, use your storytelling to follow the process of a specific task. This approach allows you to show the interconnectedness of the content and the technology.

For example: Ms. Jones comes into the office as a new patient. Learners need to know how to prepare her intake, what forms they need to give to her, what information they need to collect, how to enter her information into your electronic health records, how to prepare for billing, and how her health care carrier or coverage type affect her visit.

This scenario will take learners through Ms. Jones’ entire visit. When you present several stories throughout a training program, you will have covered all of the information that you would have covered had you broken it into sections, but that complex information is built on a framework that learners are more likely to remember.

Role-Playing and Relevant Practice

Now that you’ve provided the stories and the framework, it’s time to provide real-to-life practice. Give your learners the experience of completing their jobs before they’ve left the training room. If learners will be answering customer service calls, have them practice answering the phone and answering questions on the fly. This approach requires that learners take some risks, so take into account learners’ diverse personalities and abilities, and provide a safe, supportive environment for them.

Formal and Informal Mentorships

Some organizations have formal mentorship programs that provide new employees with support and growth opportunities. If your organization doesn’t offer such a program, you can set up informal mentorships through training. For example, pair your more experienced, tech-savvy learner with the one who’s just learning how to use a mouse. This approach provides the mentor with practice using his or her skills and gives the mentee a resource and support.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Curriculum developers and trainers can’t be experts in every aspect of every job. Use your SMEs in your role-play. They have the real-life experience and can offer tips and tricks to help new employees navigate content and technology. Provide job shadowing opportunities; send your learners out into the field with an SME or mentor to see what the job looks like “in real life.” It’s easy to be sidetracked when you’re out in the field, so give them with clear expectations, including a focus for each experience. Remember that job shadow partners may not be trainers – they were chosen because they are good at their job – so bring your learners back together to debrief.

Teach-Backs

The teach-back is a fun activity that provides an opportunity for participants to learn about one another and work toward a common goal. Have small groups learn a concept, content or process and then teach it to the rest of the learners. Be creative! Ask them to develop and then share a story, timeline, chart or other graphic representation of the information. Take it a step further, and have the groups switch the presentation piece so that, for example, group 1 is presenting the materials that group 4 created.

All of these techniques require planning on the part of the instructional designer. Chart out the concepts, content and systems to make sure that you’re adequately training all of the required information and skills. Consider your training tools (i.e., microlearning, gamification, bots, asynchronous online training, synchronous and asynchronous instructor-led training, etc.), plan accordingly, and don’t forget to have fun!

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